Gendered Genocide: The Socially Destructive Process of Genocidal Rape, Killing, and Displacement in Darfur

Date01 March 2015
Published date01 March 2015
Gendered Genocide: The Socially Destructive
Process of Genocidal Rape, Killing, and
Displacement in Darfur
Joshua Kaiser John Hagan
Accounts of mass atrocities habitually focus on one kind of violence and its
archetypal victim, inviting uncritical, ungendered misconceptions: for exam-
ple, rape only impacts women; genocide is only about dead, battle-aged men.
We approach collective violence as multiple, intersecting forms of victimiza-
tion, targeted and experienced through differential social identities, and
translated throughout communities. Through mixed-method analyses of Dar-
furi refugees’ testimonies, we show (a)gendered causes and collective effects
of selective killing, sexual violence, and anti-livelihood crimes, (b) how they
cause displacement, (c) that they can be genocidal and empirically distinct from
nongenocidal forms, (d)how the process of genocidal social destruction can
work, and (e) how it does work in Darfur. Darfuris are victimized through gen-
der roles, yielding a gendered meaning-making process that communicates
socially destructive messages through crimes that selectively target other gen-
ders. The collective result is displacement and destruction of Darfuris’ ways of
life: genocide.
Forgotten Victims of Genocide
For three months, the planes kept bombing us but we stayed.
Then, the Army and janjaweed came. They came with vehicles
and horses...and they started shooting. Everyone started run-
ning, and I left the village. I was separated from my children.
Men were targeted for killing. Women were raped. If they
resisted, they were killed. The children were not killed but were
abducted....Cattle were taken. Food was taken....[C]attle were
killed by bombing....[H]uts were burned. All furniture and
belongings were stolen....The village was completely destroyed.
We are grateful to Wenona Rymond-Richmond, Jamie Rowan, Jaimie Morse, Eric
Reeves, Nicole Rafter, Laurel Fletcher, Joachim Savelsberg, Suzy Maves McElrath, Fiona
Chin, Daphne Demetry, Nicole Kaufman, Chez Rumpf, Megan Welsh, Gabrielle Ferrales,
Cawo Abdi, Patricia Parker,the Chicago Area L aw & Society WritingSeminar, the LSR edi-
tors and reviewers, and others who offered helpful support and comments. This work was
supported by NSF grant LSS 0550299 and the American Bar Foundation.
Please direct all correspondence to Joshua Kaiser, Department of Sociology, Northwest-
ern University, 1810 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, IL 60208; e-mail: joshauwa@northwest-
Law & Society Review, Volume 49, Number 1 (2015)
C2015 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
They were yelling, “Kill the Nuba! Kill the Nuba [black slaves]!”
— testimony from Darfur
Darfur’s atrocities have reached their second decade (Reeves
2014). Analysts confirm Government of Sudan (GoS) forces and
Arab janjaweed militias have killed hundreds of thousands of Black
Africans (Hagan & Rymond-Richmond 2009; Prunier 2008; U.N.
Security-Council 2008). Still, the international community cannot
agree it is genocide.
Gender-selective killing, sexual violence, and forced migration
typify socially destructive processes of genocide (see Jones 2009;
Maybury-Lewis 2002; Seifert 1994). Many argue these crimes can
constitute genocide (Hagan & Kaiser 2011a; MacKinnon 1994),
and international law concurs (Genocide Convention 1948; Prose-
cutor v. Akayesu 1998). Yet even experts who accept these argu-
ments in theory have trouble understanding how—and therefore
when—such violence is genocidal. Absence of a genocide label
reduces humanitarian and political aid, changes legal require-
ments, hinders public and scholarly understandings, and all but
invalidates survivors’ experiences.
This misunderstanding stems from a dangerous tendency
across disciplines to focus single-mindedly on one kind of victim-
ization and one kind of victim. Like most conflict-related discourse
(Cohen 2013; Jones 2009), accounts of Darfur’s atrocities concen-
trate on killings—disproportionately of “battle-aged” men.
Women, children, the elderly, and even surviving young men are
forgotten. They are commonly treated as irrelevant to genocide—
as “merely” tortured, beaten, raped, and left to die from malnour-
ishment and disease (e.g., International Commission of Inquiry
2005; Schabas 2008). At best, they are misremembered: simplified
into survival rates, so they seem “only” evidence of “ethnic cleans-
ing” or “overzealous counterinsurgency”—though neither actually
precludes genocide.
Meanwhile, advocates who are concerned with refugees and sex-
ual victimization distance themselves from genocide conversations
(e.g., M
`res 2005; Copelon 1995). Not question-
ing the hegemonic primacy of homicide in the discourse simultane-
ously diminishes their arguments’ power and subordinates their
subjects to “real” concerns about killing. Moreover, understanding
Darfur’s multifaceted atrocities as genocide is impossible without the
holistic approach these specialists could help provide. Legal author-
ities like William Schabas (2008; 2000:174) thus flatly declare it
“unrealistic and perhaps absurd to believe that a group can be rape and similar crimes.”
Scholars likewise fail to recognize collective violence as varied,
interacting experiences filtered through gender and other
70 Gendered Genocide
identities. Groundbreaking research on the causes of conflict-
related rape neglects interactions with other victimization (Cohen
2013; Green 2004); excellent scholarship on displacement considers
only relationships with “overall” violence (Davenport et al. 2003);
and useful studies of Darfur’s atrocities analyze murder and rape
independently (Hagan & Palloni 2006; Hagan et al. 2009). Besides
“undermin[ing] disciplinary knowledge production,” treating any
subgroup as representative of all victims hinders “legal thin-
king...and struggles for social justice” (Cho et al. 2013:787). It inad-
vertently encourages artificial separation of the raped, the displaced,
and the killed—ultimately impedingunderstandings of genocide.
Genocide is not just mass murder. Dead, battle-aged men are not
genocide’s only victims. Genocide by definition intends to destroy an
entire social entity, and it does so through multiple forms of systematic
victimization. Immediate death, or “extermination,” is thus only one
aspect of genocide targeting one subset of victims. Remaining group
members face the more subtle process of “elimination,” physical and
social conditions designed to destroy entire communities, groups,
and nations (Hagan & Kaiser 2011a, 2011b).
Others make such arguments, but it is difficult to imagine
social destruction in the abstract—and how it can be intended
without complete extermination. We use a concrete example to
show empirically the process of genocidal social destruction.
Understanding genocide requires holistically considering extermi-
nation alongside elimination as interacting mechanisms that socially
destroy through group members’ shared experiences. It also
requires recognizing victimization as differentially targeted and
experienced through gender, age, and other identities.
We thus join interdisciplinary theory on killing, rape, displace-
ment, and conflicts with a gendered, social lens. First, we elabo-
rate the social nature of genocide by building on Hagan and
coauthors (2008; 2011a) and Shaw (2007), clarifying how sexual
violence and displacement can be genocidal. Next, we use Seifert’s
(1994) and Jones’s (2000) feminist approaches to hypothesize that
gender-selective targeting of genocidal violence (a) relies on per-
ceptions of women as bearers of culture and community, and men
as a culture’s default members and users, and (b)producesagen-
dered meaning-making process whereby men receive a message of
elimination through sexual victimization of women while women
receive that message through killings of men. Copelon’s (1995) and
Schabas’s (2000) asocial accounts of genocide, displacement, and
rape provide null hypotheses.
Our argument thus demands intersectional perspectives (Cho et al. 2013). For com-
prehensibility,we analyze only the intersection of gender and victimization. Future research
should investigate other identities crucial to Darfuris’ experiences.
Kaiser and Hagan 71

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